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Is Albany Park The Next Wicker? Ald. Mell Responds To Gentrification Fears

By Patty Wetli | February 15, 2017 12:33pm | Updated on February 15, 2017 12:36pm
 Tenants are fighting eviction, claiming they are being targeted because they are Latino.
Tenants are fighting eviction, claiming they are being targeted because they are Latino.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

ALBANY PARK — The pending eviction of a group of tenants from their Albany Park apartment building has touched off concerns that housing in the community is quickly becoming unaffordable for lower income and working-class families.

Those in danger of being displaced from their homes told DNAinfo that it is nearly impossible to find comparably priced apartments — they now pay $700 for a studio, $900 for a one-bedroom — in the neighborhood.

The threat of gentrification in Albany Park, which prides itself on its diversity and has traditionally served as gateway for immigrants, is troubling, said 33rd Ward Ald. Deb Mell.

"I do worry," Mell said in an interview. "I think it would be a big loss for the city for Albany Park to go the way of Wicker Park."

At the center of the debate is a 25-unit apartment building in the 4800 block of North Christiana Avenue that recently changed ownership.

The buyer, Silver Property Group, plans to undertake extensive renovations after years of deferred maintenance by the previous landlord, requiring current tenants to vacate the building. New rents will reflect those upgrades when the units come back on the market, according to Ron Abrams, a principal in Silver Property.

RELATED: Developer on Gentrification Charges: "This is a Tough Topic."

Though Mell intends to work with Silver to ensure that families with children aren't forced to uproot students in the middle of the school year, she said what's happening on Christiana Avenue is a microcosm of a greater struggle playing out not only in Albany Park but in neighborhoods such as Logan Square.

The lack of affordable housing is "a much bigger discussion we need to have as a city," she said.

Aldermen wield a certain amount of influence when it comes to new construction projects — and can push for affordable units on site — but existing buildings, such as the one on Christiana, are a different story.

For starters, tenants may not have written leases, which makes them vulnerable, Mell said.

And on the opposite end of the spectrum of owners like Silver — which increase rents after investing in a worn-down property — are landlords who keep their rents low by neglecting repairs and sometimes basic upkeep.

"I don't like folks living in substandard housing, either, just because it's affordable," Mell said.

The alderman didn't pretend to have easy solutions.

Talk of rent control, currently banned in Illinois, might be something to consider, she said.

Ultimately the balance between development and human need should always tip toward the latter, Mell said. 

"You have to put people before anything else," she said.